It takes a very different spirit and action to lead a group of people to believe in themselves and accomplish more than they would have been able to do on their own than it does to manage a group of people to make certain everyone is staying on task. Both leadership and management are needed in any organization but the two aren’t the same thing. Sometimes in church work it seems to me that we are attempting to make all those who are in some sort of leadership role into good managers instead of good leaders.
What is the real difference between the two? Leaders focus on dreams, visions, people, ideals and what can be. In a church setting the last point of what can be would relate to what a church or Christian can do with God’s blessings and help instead of just what they can do on their own. One of the greatest failings of leadership in church is that too often our thinking centers around what we are capable of because of the money we have or the talent we have in the church. In such thinking we leave God out of the picture and the result is the church becomes nothing more than a good social club doing nice things for the people. Management on the other hand is focused on keeping up with everyone who is under them. They work on quotas, budgets, expenses and making certain everyone fulfills their assigned task. It is seldom the case that a managers dreams of what can be in a church. They instead see their work in terms of making certain everyone is on task.
Leadership in church is different from any other form of leadership. There is only one head of the church, which is the body of Christ and that head is Jesus Christ (Colossians 1:18; Ephesians 1:22-23). There is no hierarchy in the church at all. Before Jesus left this world to go back to the Father and be seated at God’s right hand he made it very clear that among his followers everyone would be on the same level. There would be no big “I’s” or little “You’s”. In Mark 10:35-45 James and John approached Jesus with a big request. They wanted to sit on his right and left hands when he entered into his kingdom. Jesus told them it wasn’t his to give but would be given to the ones whom the Father prepared for. But when the other apostles learned of their request and became angry at them Jesus went much further in his explanation. “You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them and their great ones exercise authority over them. BUT IT SHALL NOT BE SO AMONG YOU. BUT WHOEVER WOULD BE GREAT AMONG YOU MUST BE YOUR SERVANT, AND WHOEVER WOULD BE FIRST AMONG YOU MUST BE SLAVE OF ALL. FOR EVEN THE SON OF MAN CAME NOT TO BE SERVED BUT TO SERVE AND TO GIVE HIS LIFE AS A RANSOM FOR MANY.” In Matthew 23 Jesus warned the disciples not to be like the scribes and Pharisees who loved to have people fall before them and to have places of honor at the feast. “But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all brothers. And call no man your father on earth for you have one Father, who is in heaven. Neither be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Christ. The greatest among you shall be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.” (Verses 5-11)
Does that leave any room for people to be leaders in the church? Sure it does, but leaders of a particular kind. Jesus loved to refer to himself as a “Shepherd” or “Pastor”. He called on Peter before He ascended to “Shepherd the sheep”, “Tend the lambs” and “Feed the sheep” in John 21. Peter would later identify himself as an elder in the church but that was years after this. Jesus called on him to shepherd the sheep long before he was separated to the work of eldering. Shepherds don’t sit in offices to make decisions about what the sheep will do. They are out among the sheep, leading from the ground, among them. Peter’s own words to Elders or Shepherds in I Peter 5:1-4 was a challenge to shepherd the flock of God and take the oversight of them but to be cautious not to “Lord it over the flock.” He said they should instead lead as an example of what the sheep were to be. He went on to warn them about becoming proud as leaders and said it was those who humbled themselves that he would exalt. He challenged them to cast their cares on the Lord who cares for us and to watch out for Satan who wants deeply to devour them.
Is a shepherd a manager of the sheep? Well, I suppose he manages in that he makes certain they have the food, the water and the protection that they need. He is out among them daily showing them the way to go. Shepherds would much easier fit the model of the leader rather than the manager. In Ephesians 4:11-16 Paul describes the people whom God has gifted to lead among the people in the church. Christ ascended on high and gave gifts to men and he gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry for the building up of the body of Christ.” Notice that each of these were to have a leadership role and work together for the equipping of the saints for ministry. Every time some group of elders set up some hierarchal chart with Christ first, under him elders, then deacons and somewhere down the line evangelist or preachers they mess up royally. Since we are all just brothers in the Lord to try to put one over the others is ridiculous. All are completely under Christ and all are on a par or equal with the sheep. I’ve heard people say that it is wrong for the preacher to be called “Pastor” or shepherd, but if a preacher isn’t doing any pastoring or shepherding in the church he isn’t worth having.
This whole notion that being an elder or deacon is to hold an office in the church is dead wrong. The word “office” is used in the King James Version of I Timothy 3 and Titus one as Paul gave the qualities of a shepherd, but the word office was never used in the Greek text and shouldn’t have been part of any translation. The ASV changed the wording to “A noble task”, most now have it “A good work”. Eldering or deaconing isn’t an office but a work. Neither is preaching or being an evangelist an office. It is the work of carrying the good news to the people and then helping them grow so they can serve effectively in God’s kingdom. We demonstrate our misunderstanding when we speak of nominating people for elders or deacons. No wonder many think they just been elected to some office and will serve until their term is ended. Look closely at how Paul described the work of both the shepherds and deacons or servants. In I Timothy 3:14 he said, “For those who serve well as deacons gain a good standing for themselves and also great confidence in the faith that is in Jesus Christ.” In I Timothy 5:17 he spoke of the shepherds, “Let the elders who lead well be considered worthy of double honor especially those who labor in preaching and teaching.” In both cases it was the work, the task given them that being done brought them a place of honor in the church. Notice the elders that lead well to be honored were laboring in preaching and teaching. They weren’t honored because they were passing down great decisions and handling the money well.
Several years ago Lynn Anderson wrote a great book on shepherding called “They smell like sheep” that should be read by anyone who wants to be a leader in the church. Leading like a shepherd should define all leadership in the church whether done by the elders, the deacons, teachers or preachers. Lead from among the people not from above them.